Saturday 12 March 2011

The Talented Mr Barclay

As an advocate of literacy promotion; I have been hugly impressed by the Galaxy Quick Reads initiative, where bestselling writers publish a novella in the ‘quick reads’ format at a cost of £1.99 [though I did notice the latest batch on sale at a UK supermarket were discounted to £1.50]. The latest batch of Quick Reads were released last week to coincide with World Book Day and World Book Night.

So what is the Quick Reads Initiative all about?

"Over a third of the adult population admit to not having the time or inclination to read for pleasure in their busy lives. Many struggle to finish a book or do not have the confidence or skills to think about reading one. Quick Reads are written and published to help adults to improve their literacy skills and discover a love of reading and books."

"Over the past six years we have witnessed the remarkable impact Quick Reads have had on the lives of thousands of new readers. Many, who before were nervous of books and had to hide the fact they found reading and writing difficult, have go on to read other books and become more confident in themselves, at work and in helping their children with school work. The number of businesses across the country who use Quick Reads are testament to how effective these books are and their investment in improving the literacy skills of their workforce is to be applauded."

Carol Taylor, Director or Operations at The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education [NIACE]

Amongst the latest batch of ‘Quick Read’ books, is a real treat from the Canadian Thriller Writer Linwood Barclay. His ‘Clouded Vision’ tale, features one of the minor characters from Linwood’s breakout novel ‘No Time For Goodbye’. I was astounded by that novel, which was the biggest selling work of fiction in 2008 [in the UK], selling close to 1 Million copies, and launched his literary career, which just goes from strength to strength. If you are not in the UK, fear not as this chilly little morality tale can be downloaded as an eBook here or from many other UK retailers.

The reason why I loved ‘Clouded Vision’ so much is because it is a ‘perfect storm’ for this reader, combining several story elements to make a satisfying but very chilly and disturbing read.

Firstly I love the novella as a format, due to the requirement to tell a tale with an economy of style and time. Stephen King has always lauded the ‘Novella’ format, and many of his greatest works are in Novella / Short Story format.

Secondly I enjoyed the character of Keisha Ceylon, the crooked psychic from ‘No Time For Goodbye’, who attempted to ‘help’ find Cynthia’s family and was delighted to see her return in ‘Clouded Vision’. I actually mentioned my enthusiasm for Ceylon to Linwood over dinner at Bouchercon Baltimore a few years ago, and pondered this afternoon whether the seed for this tale may have been planted, when we chatted about ‘No Time For Goodbye’. Typically, the modest Linwood was far more concerned at the time, about dining with the legendary Lawrence Block [who joined our dinner thanks to Orion Publishing]. On the walk to the restaurant, he whispered to me “Pinch me Ali, we’re about to break bread with the creator of Matt Scudder! How cool is that!”

Thirdly, I’m a real sucker for E.C. Comics, from the 1950’s especially the crime / horror morality tales and their sense of Grand Guignol; something that ‘Clouded Vision’ shares, with its gruesome opening, and the pivotal scenes of horror and the twisted morality of the protagonists at its climax.

‘Clouded Vision’ reminded me of the conventions [and economic style] of the pulp tradition, and for something you can read in less than an hour, it was wonderful.

So here’s the synopsis for this delightfully dark little tale -

Keisha Ceylon is a psychic. At least, that's what she passes herself off as. The truth is, Keisha's real powers have more to do with separating troubled families from their money than actually seeing into the netherworld. Keisha watches the news for stories of missing family members. She gives it a few days, then moves in, tells these families she's had a vision, that she may have some clue to where these missing people are. And by the way, she charges for this service, and likes to see the money up front. Keisha's latest mark is a man whose wife disappeared a week ago. She's seen him on TV, pleading for his wife to come home, or, if she's been abducted, pleading with whoever took her to let her go. Keisha knows a payoff when she sees one. So she pays a visit to our troubled husband, tells him her vision. Trouble is, her vision just happens to be close enough to the truth that it leaves this man rattled. And it may very well leave Keisha dead.

Several other thriller and crime-writers have written for Quick Reads – including James Patterson, Ian Rankin, Peter James, Val McDermid, Minette Walters, Andy McNab,

And don’t forget, Linwood Barclay is making a rare UK appearance at The Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival this summer in Harrogate England

If you’ve not read Linwood Barclay’s work click here

Photo [top] © 2008 Ali Karim
“Shots Men Mike Stotter and Ali Karim flank the UK’s No. 1 Thriller Writer Linwood Barclay”.

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